Tuesday

19th Feb 2019

Opinion

Is the Aachen treaty Merkel's legacy?

  • It is the evolution of Germany under Angela Merkel that is interesting (Photo: Schneider/CDU Hessen)

Long-time observers of European politics have been looking in vain for Angela Merkel's legacy.

We might have had a hint of it last week, in the coronation hall of the German city of Aachen.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Both the German chancellor and French president Emmanuel Macron were in solemn attendance while their respective countries – the power couple of European politics - renewed and upgraded their marriage vows originally made with the Elysee treaty of 1963.

A new Franco-German treaty committed them to, among other things, closer consultations to develop joint positions ahead of important EU meetings, a Franco-German economic area with joint rules, tighter military cooperation and support for Germany's permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council.

This last pledge reveals a long-term risk inherent in the new treaty: that the Franco-German couple, no longer the engine of a much-enlarged EU, might become a vehicle for the reassertion of two strong national sovereignties, as opposed to the linchpin of a European federal order.

It is true that the unwillingness to convert France's permanent seat into a European one has come, as usual, from Paris.

Still last November Berlin's finance minister Olaf Scholz had proposed that in the medium term the French seat might become an EU seat, provoking the dry French rebuke that this would run counter to the UN charter (what a compelling political argument!).

Apart from the traditional intergovernmental leanings of the French Gaullist tradition – which clearly lurk just beneath the surface of Macron's much-flaunted European-ism – it is however the evolution of Germany under Merkel that is interesting.

Merkel's measured leadership in the EU during the last decade of multiple crises seems to have reconstituted Germany as a strong national state that, while committed to European cooperation, has little appetite for dissolving itself in a supranational political union.

From Kohl to Merkel

This is a crucial change from the Helmut Kohl era, when the attainment of a European federation seemed to be at hand and was clearly the favoured option of German elites.

The recovery of the eastern protestant regions after reunification meant that the post-war dominance of the catholic south and west – historically more cosmopolitan and federative in outlook – has been undermined.

More recently, the experience of successful, albeit contested, continental leadership has also made Germans more outward-looking and self-conscious in European and global power games.

The country can rightly pride itself with having kept the EU together thanks to its impeccable economic performance and renewed sense of national purpose.

These trends have been compounded by Merkel's essentially intergovernmental vision of European integration.

The last federative effort of German elites was the EU's ill-fated constitutional treaty, initiated by a famous speech of Joschka Fischer at the Humboldt University in 2000.

Ever since Merkel took over, her specific brand of inter-governmentalism has left its mark on any new European initiative, most notably during the sovereign debt crisis and the management of financial assistance to the EU's periphery.

Bismarck 2.0

With all appropriate caveats, it is perhaps not excessive to characterise the result as neo-Bismarckian: the reconstitution of Germany as a strong national state that is again trotting in the wilderness of history exposed to all the winds of change without strong continental safeguards.

In the long-term, Merkel's responsible leadership and her commitment to multilateralism and European cooperation seems little more than the modern equivalent of Bismarck's alliance system: a passing safeguard dangerously dependent on the wisdom of her successors.

Only time will tell, but in the very different context of the 21st century, Merkel may have unwittingly revitalised what Bismarck had achieved and Hitler destroyed: a self-restrained but conscious and confident German national state.

It is perhaps no accident that this period saw the rebirth of a nationalist right in Germany.

The chancellor restored the German nation to a rank that it had never had in Europe since the 1930s and turned the prospect of a European federal union into a remote regulative ideal.

The 'Cunning of Reason' of which Hegel spoke is always at work in history.

Those who today contest her in the name of a Europe of nations cooperating with each other may one day realise that she did far more than them to achieve it.

Federico Ottavio Reho is strategic coordinator and research officer at the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies

Analysis

France and Germany hope to revive EU with Aachen treaty

In the face of attacks on the liberal world order and the EU, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron renew German-Franco cooperation - but their lack of political capital prevents bold visions or ambitious goals.

Agenda

Aachen treaty and Brexit endgame This WEEK

Germany and France are set to reinforce their alliance as the engine-house of European integration, while Britain continues to struggle to leave the EU.

Merkel loyalist AKK wins CDU leadership battle

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, seen as championing similar policies to Angela Merkel, has won the CDU party leadership contest and is thus the frontrunner to become chancellor once Merkel leaves. But a split party will mean challenges.

EU's chance to step up on Hungary and Poland

Viktor Orban of Hungary and Poland's Jaroslaw Kaczynski seem to share the idea that the rights of some may come at the expense of the rights of others, and public institutions should serve the majority, and not all citizens.

Could Finnish presidency fix labour-chain abuse?

There can be no more excuses for business. They will be held for responsible for their failure to take action to prevent the risk of human and labour rights through their supply chains.

News in Brief

  1. Estonia kicks out Danske Bank over money laundering scandal
  2. May and Juncker meet over Brexit on Wednesday
  3. EU promises to open up advisory groups
  4. EU agrees to limit CO2 emissions by trucks
  5. Juncker under attack in Hungary government ad
  6. EU would not oppose extending Brexit talks, Juncker said
  7. Juncker expects Trump not to impose new car tariffs
  8. Former EU official sentenced for office rape

What does Poland want from the EU?

We propose several changes to the EU, derived from the political philosophy behind the current Polish government, and what Poles expect from the EU - this could be seen as a manifesto Poland wants the next European Commission to tackle.

Migration and May elections - time to get facts right

If misinformation in the field of migration can bring a government down, as in the recent case of Belgium following the country's adoption of the UN migration pact, then it can doubtless produce a populist majority in the European parliament.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  2. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  3. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  5. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  7. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  8. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups

Latest News

  1. College of Europe alumni ask rector to cut Saudi ties
  2. EU says Hungary's anti-Juncker campaign is fake news
  3. Trump right for once: Europe should take back foreign fighters
  4. EU should clarify rules for plant burgers and lab meat
  5. Italian populists could be second biggest force in EU parliament
  6. Merkel defends Russia ties, ridicules Trump on cars
  7. British MPs condemn Facebook CEO's misrule
  8. EU's chance to step up on Hungary and Poland

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us